Digging For National Identity

Robert Draper reports on how archeologists in Israel are at war, with some searching for clues to prove a literal interpretation of the Bible and possibly use them for political means:

From the Palestinian perspective, the scurrying for archaeological evidence to justify a people's sense of belonging misses the point. As East Jerusalem resident and archaeology professor Hani Nur el-Din says, "When I see Palestinian women making the traditional pottery from the early Bronze Age, when I smell the taboon bread baked in the same tradition as the fourth or fifth millennium B.C., this is the cultural DNA. In Palestine there's no written document, no historicitybut still, it's history."

Most Israeli archaeologists would prefer that their work not be used as a political wedge. This, nonetheless, is the way of young nations. As Bar-Ilan University archaeology professor Avraham Faust observes, "The Norwegians relied on Viking sites to create a separate identity from their Swedish and Danish rulers. Zimbabwe is named after an archaeological site. Archaeology is a very convenient tool for creating national identities."